The news is a lot at the moment. Between the deadly floods hitting much of the east coast of Australia and the current devastating attacks launched by Russia in in the Ukraine, it's hard to get away from the constant doom scrolling.
And with anxiety among Aussies already on the rise after we just seemingly got through Covid variants multiplying like a Gremlin fed after midnight, it’s no surprise the current situation we find ourselves in is leading more people to seek professional help for their mental health concerns.
However, there are some practical, evidence-based strategies to help manage anxiety and you can start implementing them right away.
Melbourne-based Neuroscientist Paul Taylor knows a thing or two about high stress situations.
The former British Royal Navy Aircrew Officer and founder of The Mind-Body-Brain Performance Institute, has undergone rigorous Military Combat Survival and Resistance-to-Interrogation Training.
How anxiety stresses you out
Paul, who also created and co-hosted the TV series Body and Brain Overhaul, and appeared regularly on TV’s The Biggest Loser, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that anxiety can be a massive crippler for people dealing with it.
“With anxiety, the stress response system has become hyper-vigilant and is being turned on too fast and impairs someone’s ability to deal with even minor stressors," he says.
Managing stress: From warzone to the boardroom
Paul tells us that the stress management and focus techniques used for managing anxiety in a life/death situation are not so different to managing stress in any setting, there’s just more or less intensity.
“The most stressful situations I have found myself in were probably during flight training, or when I was doing Helicopter Search and Rescue in the mountains of Scotland and Ireland in very dangerous conditions,” Paul tells us.
“Hanging off the back of a helicopter and trying to guide the pilot up a mountain through high fog when there’s almost zero visibility and lives on the line, you need to remain calm and focused on the job at hand. Focusing on breathing is really important, particularly the long, slow out-breath.”
Drop and give me 30
Paul says if you know you’re about to deal with a high-anxiety situation, there are ways to hack your brain’s stress response and discharge those stress hormones.
“Whether the stress is real or imaginary, you get a flood of stress hormones," she says.
"When we fight or run away, we burn those stress hormones up. 30 seconds of vigorous physical activity-burpees, running on the spot etc to discharge the stress hormones, followed by 1-2 minutes of slow, controlled breathing to recharge and calm down can help immensely.
"Once the brain has calmed, you then re-frame the situation. You can say to yourself: 'I’m not stressful, I’m not gonna die. This is why what I am doing is important', to start that psychological reset."
Long term anxiety management
From a long-term perspective, Paul believes the gold-standard treatment for anxiety is exposure therapy, not medication.
“Bit by bit, exposing yourself to the stuff that makes you anxious, but using the discharge/recharge technique to master your anxiety response as your physiology learns to deal with stress hormones is best," he says.
"Whether you’re exercising at high intensity, thinking about something stressful or you’re anxious about having to talk in public, the stress response is the same, so you’re training your body and brain to deal with it.”
Paul says another thing that can be useful to help train your physiology to deal with stress is cold water exposure therapy.
“Turning the shower on to cold for 30 seconds at the end of your shower and breathing slowly through the shock is another great exposure technique," he adds.
"These techniques all give you the best long-term management of stress and anxiety.”
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